A framework to explore micronutrient deficiency in maternal and child health in Malawi, Southern Africa

Natalie Dickinson, John Gulliver, Gordon MacPherson, John Atkinson, Jean Rankin, Maria Cummings, Zoe Nisbet, Andrew Hursthouse, Avril Taylor, Chris Robertson, Wolfgang Burghardt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Global food insecurity is associated with micronutrient deficiencies and it has been suggested that 4.5 billion people world-wide are affected by deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and iodine. Zinc has also been identified to be of increasing concern. The most vulnerable are young children and women of childbearing age. A pilot study has been carried out in Southern Malawi, to attempt to link the geochemical and agricultural basis of micronutrient supply through spatial variability to maternal health and associated cultural and social aspects of nutrition. The aim is to establish the opportunity for concerted action to deliver step change improvements in the nutrition of developing countries.

Results: Field work undertaken in August 2007 and July/August 2008 involved the collection of blood, soil and crop samples, and questionnaires from similar to 100 pregnant women. Complex permissions and authorisation protocols were identified and found to be as much part of the cultural and social context of the work as the complexity of the interdisciplinary project. These issues are catalogued and discussed. A preliminary spatial evaluation is presented linking soil quality and food production to nutritional health. It also considers behavioural and cultural attitudes of women and children in two regions of southern Malawi, (the Shire Valley and Shire Highlands plateau). Differences in agricultural practice and widely varying soil quality (e. g. pH organic matter, C/N and metal content) were observed for both regions and full chemical analysis of soil and food is underway. Early assessment of blood data suggests major differences in health and nutritional status between the two regions. Differences in food availability and type and observations of life style are being evaluated through questionnaire analysis.

Conclusion: The particular emphasis of the study is on the interdisciplinary opportunities and the barriers to progress in development support in subsistence communities. Engaging at the community level and the balance of expectations from both study subjects and research team highlight the merit of careful and detailed planning and project delivery.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnvironmental Health
PublisherBioMed Central
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventJoint Environment and Human Health Programme/Annual Science Day Conference and Workshop - Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Feb 200925 Feb 2009

Publication series

NameEnvironmental Health
ISSN (Print)1476-069X


ConferenceJoint Environment and Human Health Programme/Annual Science Day Conference and Workshop
CountryUnited Kingdom

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